The Successful MSP-Association Partnership
Learn what a managed service provider does, why your association needs one, and what questions to ask before getting started.
As an association leader, you likely view your internal IT staff as superheroes, and in today’s digitally-fueled workplace, they’re just that—individuals with extraordinary talent who can get you out of a bind in ways you never thought possible.
But as skilled as they are, the rapidly evolving nature of the tech industry makes it logistically impossible for your IT director or team to know everything. That’s why many associations are partnering with managed service providers (MSPs) to help run their IT environments and end-user systems.
The role of the MSP has taken on a new life in the era of cloud computing as associations transition from on-premise legacy systems to cloud-based tools such as Microsoft 365, multifactor authentication platforms, cloud servers, single sign-on solutions, and cloud-focused security software. While these technologies make it possible to securely store and access data over the internet—facilitating remote work, data synchronization, and novel backup solutions—they also require quickly shifting expertise.
That’s where the MSP shines.
“When you’re an MSP, you’re seeing multiple systems all day, every day, in the context of multiple situations,” said Brian Sheehan, DelCor executive vice president. “Your understanding is naturally broader and deeper in terms of troubleshooting from a complexity perspective. You’re also getting exposure to the strategy and management side of things you can bring to the association.”
The right combination of internal and external tech resources can serve as a competitive advantage for associations—and will continue to do so as cloud providers improve upon existing solutions and introduce new ones, introducing added complexity along the way.
“An association’s IT staff have valuable institutional knowledge and insight; that’s why a partnership between an MSP and an IT director can work really well,” Sheehan said. “The IT director is focused on the business of the association, and a good MSP will support that mission through new and evolving tools.”
What to Look for in an MSP
If you’re an IT director or association exec looking to partner with an MSP, make sure to do your research. A good MSP will bring valuable knowledge to the table regarding the new tools and features cloud platform providers continually release within their platforms.
“Traditionally, if you wanted a new solution, you had to purchase and implement it; there was an actual transaction that needed to take place,” said Chris Ecker, DelCor’s chief technology officer.
“Today, a barrage of new tools are being made available through the various cloud platforms,” he said. “They may require additional licensing changes and implementation costs, but many are provided within the platform. A good MSP should know those technologies, know how to implement them, and help associations cut through some of the marketing hype and get down to the real value.”
A robust IT service desk with around-the-clock availability is also a must; make sure to ask whether your prospective MSP outsources its customer service tasks.
“There is a big disconnect if that’s the case,” Sheehan said. “With so much knowledge share, procedures, and credentials, you don’t want another party in between.”
A good MSP should also provide your association with an informed, dedicated consultant who holds quarterly planning meetings with its association partners to assist with strategy and budgeting.
The Value of a True Partnership
Sheehan also stressed the importance of trust in any relationship between an MSP and association. “You’ll need to have a true partnership and open lines of discussion when it comes to budgeting,” he said. “Trusting that your MSP takes your goals as an organization seriously as you go through the budgeting process is essential.”
Identifying potential constraints from the beginning of any partnership is essential. For example, suppose your association doesn’t provide staff with a monthly stipend for cellular phones and instead relies on employees to bring their own devices. In that case, they may not be comfortable installing a multifactor authentication app on those devices. Also consider your association’s cultural constraints, such as tolerance for change or policies around remote work.
“Just knowing those constraints up front helps—and a good MSP will be asking those questions because they factor into decision-making criteria,” Ecker said. “But sometimes there can be unique constraints that your MSP may not be aware of, so communication is key.”
DelCor works closely with associations and nonprofits to offer outsourced IT support, CIO services, technology assessments, and digital workplace consulting. For more information on DelCor’s digital workplace consulting services and association technology solutions, visit delcor.com. While you’re there, be sure to check out Reboot IT, a podcast exploring all things association and nonprofit tech!